More from Libba Bray
Published: March 31, 2006
|Here is additional material from Beth Bakkum's interview with author Libba Bray for the May 2006 How I Write column in The Writer:|
On becoming a writer
When I was 18, I was in a serious car accident (not that there are any fun and trivial car accidents). Among other injuries, I destroyed my face, which had to be rebuilt over the next few years, and I also lost an eye. This was just a few months before I went away to college. It was a painful, lonely time, and I began to keep a journal as a way of keeping myself alive, basically. It was a way to say everything that needed to be said, to scream and rage and cry and howl--all the things I felt I couldn't do in my life. I found I really enjoyed the writing for its own sake. It gave me a sense of being part of the world rather than of being cut off from it. It still does that for me.
Her inspiration for A Great and Terrible Beauty
One evening I was watching a pack of teenage girls walk down the street. They were dressed up for something, and as they passed these three boys who were coming from the opposite direction, they copped this attitude of, "Yeah, that's right, suckers, we OWN you." But the minute the boys were out of sight, the girls changed completely. They started doing these small, self-conscious, very young things--pulling at their hair, giggling. It was like they had some kind of magic that they were only playing with but didn't really know how to use yet. And I thought, hmmmm (to quote Laurie Anderson). So, the idea sprang from the notion that emerging female sexuality--that electric power of "Oooh, look what I can do!" that you discover in your teens--can be both terribly exciting as well as terribly threatening, to the girls themselves and to society at large. Plus, I love a good gothic tale, and I felt like it might be fun to try to write one.
I often look at what I've written previously, making tweaks and cuts or additions as a way of getting back into the groove. But usually I get the book back after the first draft and dive into major revision mode, which isn't pretty. I mutter a lot during that period. Also, I think I smell. Not a lot of dinner invitations are issued when I'm revising. Funny that. The revision period is actually my favorite part, though. So many more possibilities seem to open up once I know where I've been and can see a bit more of where I'm going.
Hmmm, writer's block. Somehow that connotes a quaint Dick Van Dyke Show episode of Rob, Sally and Buddy pacing in Rob's office, the silence broken by great jokes and a rollicking laugh track. What I usually experience is something more akin to Edvard Munch's "The Scream" with a soundtrack by Black Flag. More panicked screaming, less quaintness.
I don't usually have an absence of ideas. It's more the how-do-I-connect-this-to-that-and-what-do-I-put-here problems. I find that when I get bogged down in the mechanics of a piece, I always go back to the emotion and follow it down the rabbit hole. I ask the basic questions, "What does my character want? What is she afraid of? What is the worst thing that could happen? The best?" If forcing myself to sit with it doesn't produce any ideas, I work on something else that's on the back burner, so that at least I'm writing on SOMETHING and I don't walk away feeling quite as defeated and grumpy.
I actually set up a small obstacle course in my apartment consisting of Hot Wheels cars, dirty socks, wet towels that do not make it onto towel bars, discarded backpacks and lunchboxes, bills, receipts to be filed, books to be read someday, old New York Times and other domestic flotsam and jetsam. (Actually, other people in my home have helped to set this up for me. They are very invested in my happiness.) I run it, back and forth, while trying to resolve plot lines in my head. It's my own Cirque du Soleil of writing angst. And who doesn't love to wear spandex outfits that resemble exotic birds while simultaneously contemplating metaphor?
I think the demands of writing versus the demands of home are a tough balance. I wonder if this is unique to women writers, or if men feel it as well. There never seems to be enough time. And yet, being knee-deep in the everyday muck of life often produces those necessary epiphanies, so there you go. Is it an obstacle, or is it a tutorial? When you can snatch the pebble from my hand, Grasshopper, it will be time for you to go.